An Empty Nest Obsession and Confession

An Empty Nest Obsession And ConfessionIt’s one of my father’s classic tales that now it brings an odd sense of comfort to me — or at least helps explain my strange new obsession.

Willie, the fictional character who always finds himself in an adventure with a message larger than his predicament, wandered into a local bar.

He had a few drinks, just enough to make him feel invincible, even though he stood barely five-feet-four and weighed just over a hundred pounds, wringing wet.

He sat at a table, writing. Then he got up and yelled loud enough to silence the crowd. When he had their attention, he said, “I’ve got a list here of everybody in this room I can whip.”

Then a big two-hundred-pounder with the body of a football linebacker strode up to Willie. “You got my name on that list?” he thundered.

Willie looked up and recognized him, checked his list, and said, “Yep. Your name is right here.”

Looking down his nose at Willie, the big man said, “But you can’t whip me.”

Willie eyed his challenger, took in his full size and studied the situation. “Okay,” he said, “then we’ll just mark your name right off the list.”

I still laugh at the story, but now appreciate Willie in a new way. Although tipsy, he sized up his reality, marked off what he couldn’t master, and got real about what mattered.

Maybe that’s the fuel beneath the fire I feel since my children have flown the coop and left me with an “empty” nest.

I can’t stop de-cluttering. I’m obsessed.

I know the local consignment shop owners by their first name. I have the number for Salvation Army’s pick-up service in my phone favorites. I know every Goodwill drop off site in a ten-mile radius.

The first round began after my eldest whipped through my house plucking only what she needed for her new home with her husband as they moved 3,000 miles away.

The next round started when my youngest purged his prized belongings, creating mounds of trash and recycle before heading off to school.

I was shocked at what no longer mattered to them.

Wasn’t it just yesterday my youngest caught me recycling a Certificate of Participation (for T-ball) and admonished me saying, “Mom, don’t you know how much a certificate means to a child?”

I apologized and promptly made a labeled folder for that “special” certificate and began saving every “special” memento, applying that mindset to most of their childhood trappings.

And now my nest is full with everything–but them.

Trash, donate, save — my obsessive three-bin battle cry — reminds me of my frenzied preparation for our firstborn — my non-stop nesting.

Maybe now I’m un-nesting?

Maybe, like Willie and my kids, I’m deciding what matters by what’s left. Those bare shelves, empty drawers, and vacant closets could create space for what’s next — for me.

After all, as my father liked to say after this Willie tale, “Life is measured as much by what we mark off and leave out as what we put in.”

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at